I live in Steelers Country. I know this because there are many banners and flags proudly proclaiming this throughout Pittsburgh. One of the first things I noticed when I was visiting the city was how, even out of football season, there was Steelers paraphernalia everywhere. I’ve lived in New England; I’ve seen diehard Patriots fans, and I don’t think they hold a candle to Steelers Nation. And then there’s the case of my book club, who schedules around Steelers games. And sometimes, when the Steelers are away and there aren’t any other good dates, we have the game on (sometimes quietly, sometimes silently) in the background while we talk about the book.
On a recent Sunday morning, I was doing my regular grocery shopping, and I noticed an uptick in the Steelers jerseys that other folks were wearing, so I knew it was gameday. Going through the checkout, the cashier in the lane beside me asked her customer if he was going to watch the game, and he responded, “I won’t be. I just can’t get over all this kneeling business.” So there’s a lot to unpack in that short statement, but I’ll leave that to some great commentary that’s already been written (read here, here, or here). I think what’s most important in understanding and reacting to this comment is this: It’s our democratic duty to teach our kids about protest. If you ask eight people about the purpose of education, you’ll get (most likely) eight different answers. I believe that public education in the U.S. should be about creating thoughtful, informed citizens who can participate in our democracy. And central to democratic participation is protest. I’ll refrain from going into an overview of salient protest moments in depth, but I encourage you to check out this article from Upworthy.com for a deeper view. Instead, I’ll say that the United States was founded on the theoretical idea of protest as well as the practical application of it (the Boston Tea Party serves as a notable example). And whether we’re talking about the Civil Rights movement, or women’s rights, or equal rights for the LGBTQQIA+ community, America’s narrative has been one of folks calling out injustices and demanding that the promises of the nation be kept. Protest is essential and there aren’t particular places where it should or shouldn’t be allowed. Protest can’t work if there are strict bounds on it as a concept. After Antwon Rose was murdered here in Pittsburgh, protesters took to the streets and shut down at least one major thoroughfare during an evening commute. I remember hearing Pittsburghers on the radio talking about how protest was fine up until it disrupted their lives. But the very root of protest is that a group of people aren’t being seen and/or heard, and they need to do something to communicate that. So sticking to writing an op-ed or allowing everyone else continue to not notice them starts to feel preposterous. A child died, and we have to stop thinking of him as someone else’s child. In order for democracy to work, every child has to be mine, too. I have to care for the individuals with the least power and privilege so that this democracy works for everyone. And when society hasn’t been convinced to care, protest is the only option. “This kneeling business” is a very narrow view of a protest about police brutality and systemic racism, and the fact that many people (mainly white people) can continue to conceive of it as being about kneeling and disrespecting veterans shows an almost willful ignorance of our racialized society. If our kids are going to be thoughtful, informed citizens, they need to learn about protest, and what better way than in the context of the world in which they’re growing up? Image courtesy of Sara Bailey.